The Associated Press made headlines last week when it decided to strike the phrase “illegal immigrant” from its style guide. Related idioms such as “illegal alien,” “an illegal,” or “undocumented immigrant” are likewise now verba non grata to the AP.
The New York Times is also reconsidering its use of language around the issue of immigration. As Poynter’s Roy Peter Clark recently put it, “to find and depict our common humanity requires more reporting, not less; more language, not less; more thinking, not less.”
But “illegal immigrant” is just one example of how words can reflect power dynamics. The Times’ obituary of inventor Yvonne Brill initially contained turns of phrase that led to accusations of sexism. The language of gay rights has all kinds of potential for missteps. And what about the words we use when talking about race, religion, color, age, or disability?
The point is that many important issues, not just immigration, are framed by the language that the media uses to talk about them. Read more